opium poppy

The headlines are nonstop. We are told that people are dying every day because of abuse of opioid analgesics. There are tragic stories about overdose deaths. This makes lawmakers want to crack down and make it harder for doctors to prescribe such medications and people to access them. Some people, like this reader, are caught in the cross fire of the opioid epidemic.

Q. What are people in chronic pain going to do now that the pendulum has swung toward not prescribing opiates for those in chronic pain?

As a hospice nurse I frequently see patients suffering from terminal cancer pain. I myself am a chronic pain patient and am scared to death that I will no longer be able to get adequate relief from severe pain.

Is anyone with compassion overseeing agencies such as the DEA, insurance companies or government policy makers?

A. Regulators are caught on the horns of a terrible dilemma. On the one hand they are dealing with an opioid epidemic. There are scary headlines about abuse of drugs like oxycodone (OxyContin) or fentanyl. Overdose deaths are reported almost every day.

DEA Cracks the Whip:

As a result of the opioid epidemic, policy makers have cracked down on drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone. The Drug Enforcement Administration has made it harder for physicians to prescribe such medications for people dealing with chronic pain. Many doctors are now fearful to prescribe these drugs for more than a few weeks.

Many patients suffering long-term severe pain are having a hard time getting relief. We have heard from hundreds of people who never abused opioids or increased their dose.

Stories from Readers:

Kay in Seattle, Washington:

“I had a terrible slip & fall in the shower 6 years ago and for 4 years following that accident, I had relentless pain, my mobility decreased, I gained weight and slowly slipped into a very scary, dark place emotionally and mentally.

“Luckily and by the grace of God, I found a combination of a good pain doctor and 2 specialists in alternative therapies that have slowly but surely helped me to start to regain my life back. I am not 100% but I am a lot better.

“It makes me so sad because I know there are people out there who have not been able to find medical professionals that can help and/or will really listen. Reading about people in pain who cannot access treatment makes my chest tighten up, my heart ache and brings tears to my eyes.

“I shudder to think where I might be had I not found help. Pain meds work for people who need them & the people who need them should be able to get them without being put through the 3rd degree. They feel bad enough already without being denied and shamed by the government or medical professionals.”

Jan in Alaska writes:

“I have worked in the Carpenters Union for over 20 years. I have also been in three rear end collisions. Between these injuries and osteoarthritis I would not be able to function if it weren’t for opioids I would never get any sleep. If you cannot sleep you cannot function.

“I have NEVER over used, or abused my prescriptions. I feel I am suffering because of the actions of others.”

Jackie in South Carolina has an interesting perspective on a powerful drug:

“I am going on 80 years of age and have been taking oxycodone on and off for several years for chronic back pain. Before I reach for the oxycodone I try everything else in my ‘arsenal’ like heat patches, Tylenol, ice packs…you name it…and if they don’t relieve my pain I take the opioid.

“There are trade offs. Constipation, a slight hangover in the morning, etc. No one has to protect me from myself and I resent someone unrelated and uninformed about my medical condition having the power to dictate how much pain I must tolerate.

“What are we to do without the option of oxycodone and the like? Lie awake through the night and suffer? People who find a way to abuse that particular substance will just turn to something else with possibly greater consequences. Who, then, is better off?”

The People’s Pharmacy Perspective:

Sadly, there are no simple solutions to the challenging dilemma of the opioid epidemic. It is not clear that restricting access to these drugs for people in severe chronic pain will end the opioid abuse problem in America. Sadly, we do not have great alternative strategies for dealing with this kind of pain.

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  1. Allison

    I am so sick of seeing so many news programs and reports about “soccer moms” who become opiate addicts. They portray the “soccer moms” as victims when they are not. The real victims are people like me who need opiates and that safely and properly use opiates, but can’t get what they need because of all the bad press and increased regulations.

    Opiates are not bad. The people who abuse them are bad and doctors who give them, or any drug, to people that don’t need them are the problem. I would love to see reporting that is not just one-sided. Interview me. I am a mom that has never used any illegal drug or abused any legal drug. I don’t drink and have never even tried a cigarette in my life. Yet, because of all the regulations and scare tactics over opiates I can’t get what I need to be able to cope with my chronic pain. My pain has made me disabled, unable to work, unable to read a novel, and even sometimes too intense to brush my teeth. I live with pain 24/7. But instead of prescribing an opiate that I had responded to in the past, the doctors instead have me taking 4 different drugs for pain which don’t help at all with my pain. So it is easier for them to prescribe 4 drugs that don’t work instead of 1 that does. Their new mantra is that their policy is not to prescribe opiates.

  2. Matt

    We need to back off on the opioid scare. My dr. Has cut my pain Meds in half because he’s scared. He says it’s for my own good. Right! It’s only for his own good! I’m in more pain now than ever!
    We need someone to over see this and help us people that need legitimately need pain Meds! I have never over used my pain Meds, never asked for more. I was just fine before this opioid scare!
    It’s desert orthopedics in bend Oregon. More worried about themselves than adequately helping the patients needs!
    And they are a pain management place!!! I am so mad!

  3. MR.Pickles

    As a pain sufferers everywhere are unable to even fill their prescriptions because pharmacy retailers are refusing to fill legal prescriptions…..claiming they cannot fill pain prescriptions because “the DEA will not allow them to fill scripts” But I have been told by a Cvs pharmcist family member that pharmacy retailers are not filling pain scripts because of fear of law suits when patients overdose.
    But in reality is there something more sinister taking place? Such as the fact that Mexico’s previous marijuana fields have been burnt and they are now planting a new more lucrative crop of Poppy fields to yeild heroin.
    It is just a theory but perhaps all the dirty CORRUPT politicians are pushing pain PATIENTS to use their black market heroin…by simply not allowing legal pain relief to be allowed. Makes sense.

  4. Joyce

    I have been on OxyContin for ten years for chronic pain now my insurance co united health care has cut me off have tried other meds this is the only medicine that works. How can the government and Ins co have so much control over what works and what doesn’t in bad shape

  5. Richard A. L.
    Fort Mill SC

    I have supported thousands of chronic pain patients as a non-physician author, peer-to-peer website moderator and research analyst for over 20 years. My wife and daughter are chronic pain patients. I’m easy to find online.

    From this background, I must assert that a major complicating factor in treatment of chronic pain and addiction is that most of the dominant public narrative on both subjects is flat-out wrong. Some of it is fraudulent. And I rank the CDC guidelines on prescription of opioids to adult non-cancer chronic pain patients in the latter category. The consultants’ working group which wrote the guidelines was deeply influenced by financially self-interested addiction treatment professionals, and particularly by Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescription — a group that is almost universally reviled by knowledgeable pain patients. This working group deliberately cherry-picked studies from medical literature in an effort to discredit opioids as effective, reliable, and mostly safe relief for pain. And there is now published proof of their malfeasance.

    I have summarized this proof in a recent article at the American Council on Science and Health, a Non Profit Organization active since the 1970s, in advocacy for evidence based medicine. See “The CDC Opioid Guidelines Violate Standards of Science Research”


    It is time for the CDC Guidelines to be withdrawn and rewritten. This time, the effort should be led by specialists trained in pain management, with participation by chronic pain patients and their advocates. It is time to STOP THE WAR AGAINST CHRONIC PAIN PATIENTS!

  6. Rose
    Cape Vincent, N.Y.

    I agree with Jackie from South Carolina. A true drug addict will use and abuse any substance that they choose.

    My sister began by using cocaine, then crack. After that, she abused opioids and Xanax. She was also an alcoholic since adolescence. In the end, she died from huffing computer keyboard cleaner. She suffered from addiction, not chronic pain.
    I feel terrible for the lifestyle she chose and the misery she suffered. However, she made horrible choices.

    I’m physically disabled and suffer from chronic pain. I can’t even obtain a therapeutic dose of pain medication, thanks to the CDC and DEA.
    It’s absolutely disgusting that those of us who suffer from chronic pain are denied the medication that we need in order to live more comfortable and productive lives. We’re just left to suffer while the addicts continue to make bad choices at our expense.

    • Allison

      Thank you for posting this and trying to help those that suffer from chronic pain. We need more medical professionals like you that can speak from personal experience.

  7. William J.
    Durham, NC

    OK, I think it time for action! We must expose this shameful practice of denying suffering people the only legal medication that will allow a quality of life that is worth living for. I will call newspapers, TV news stations, radio and I suggest everyone to do the same. Let Duke, for instance, this highly esteemed hospital that is run like a corporation afraid of doing the right thing for fear of what? Losing their sponsor? This is all about integrity and the lack of it. Money is more important then a patients pain. What happened to descretion!? These medical professionals are not intelligent, they are specialized robots worried about career advancement.

  8. Shirley Mae
    Corvallis, OR

    I’m so glad to hear others talking about pain and opioides. I have had severe Neuropathy, not Diabetes related, for years! Through the almost 20 years I suffered with pain I’ve had to change to stronger medications. Praise God I found a wonderful pain clinic in our area that monitors the pain and are willing to work with me in finding what works. I do not feel shame in taking Oxycodone, the Osycontin stopped working. I’ve found stool softeners keep me from having constipation and use a product called Herb Lax, a natural laxative, helps if the stool softener doesn’t do its work! Those in pain are not addicts – we are responsible with our meds and only take them because we want to be part of life instead of watching life go by without us.

    • Mike G

      I suffer from severe chronic RA with neuropathy. The pain is sometimes unbearable. Although I had no choice but to retire I do work part time. Every time I hear about this it makes me so angry and I’m afraid I might lose the little bit of pain meds I get. I have NEVER abused my script. Always have some left over by time of next script. How is it our fault others abuse?? Please, we must fight this. One bad apple does not spoil whole basket. Why are true pain sufferers punished ?? I’m sick and tired of hanging on the cuffs of these lawmakers that have no idea. Their in this for there own gain.
      Thank you,
      Mike G

  9. AussieLady
    Winston -Salem , NC

    I’ve used extended release morphine, oxycodone and/or tramadol for 17 years for fibromyalgia pain. It’s allowed me to work, run a business, volunteer with animal shelters, and walk and do yoga classes. Plus travel, take care of a home and yard, garden, etc. None of this would be possible if I no longer had these medications.I have a compassionate pain management doctor who understands that treating pain allows patients to be productive members of society, patients who spend money and pay taxes. Consider the alternative: being home in bed, disability checks, endless misery, and without the relief of pain. Who could travel or care about remodeling their kitchen? We’d never make it to yoga class.

    It’s saving lives to prescribe these drugs to appropriate patients. Addicts will always find something else to use.
    Should we close all banks because there are bank robbers ? It’s just a good news story to write about these ignorant people and their overdoses. You can’t legislate common sense. And no one understands what a life of chronic pain is like- unless they’ve lived it. Pain meds are not just for terminal patients. We should only be able to relieve our suffering if we are at death’s door??

  10. A

    The CDC released guide lines for doctors prescribing opiates. The guidelines allow doctors to still prescribe opiates. BUT medical health companies have told their doctors to no longer prescribe it. A strange knee jerk reaction or just filled with fear from the DEA. Health care providers physicians were given no guidelines on what to replace opiates with.

    My wife’s physician had to send her to a pain management specialist.
    The first pain management doctor could only work one part of the body at at a time. The alternatives he suggested were, mind over matter used by NFL and other elite players. Folks who choose to put themselves in pain backed by multi million medical support. Good for the rich and elite, not for the average U.S. Citizen. Not surprising we both thought he was way out of touch with reality. He has since moved to our local hospital and feed back from others is not good.

    Being open minded and not having alternative we went to a second specialist. This pain specialist could only guess the area to inject shots where her pain radiated from her lower back. The shots were given and she could not leave for nearly three hours! They tolds us we could leave about thirty minute after the shots but my wife had no control over her legs and could not walk. The shots were over done?

    Next visit, he assured he was he could help her neck pain, six shots three either side. Again more pain for over a week. They even tried to sell us on neuroplasticity a new theory for amputees that suffer ghost pain from missing limbs. Needless to say we never went back and lo and behold that office is now closed. So what’s the answer for those who have chronic pain? My wife was told she will always need them,often I see her in pain and remind her she needs her meds. Addicts don’t do this she would rather be back teaching and have her life back, its a degenerative disease not gonna happen.

    My thanks go out to all the DEA people who generated this policy, May you all live in pain as my wife and countless other suffer and still do. If it where not for the DEA and other government agencies inept ability to manage the drug program we would not be in this position today.

    Why is it my wife can get a list of every prescribed drug she had the past year from our state. This includes the doctors who prescribed them and quantity. How hard is it for the DEA to review these and see who is over prescribing opiates. No too easy, lets cut everybody off at their knees and make it a painful road for everybody. Physicians with integrity hate having their hands tied by inept people in government agencies and by politicians.

    Weed out the bad actors not the patients!!


    • Colin

      I actually worked on the Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs a few years ago. Initially it was designed for the HMO’s to monitor their member physicians not only for over prescribing opioids but for prescribing outside of the formularies. Too expensive? Rein them back into the fold.

      Today, every drug you have ever taken can be “reviewed”. To what end, who knows but this is a gross invasion of privacy in my opinion, if that gets into the wrong hands. And HIPPA is a paper tiger.

  11. Susan H.

    I fractured my back in my early thirties (I am a senior citizen now), and over the years have suffered a series of traumatic-to-catastrophic events that, but for an ongoing prescription for oxycodone, would have left me either bedridden or dead by my own hand.

    Despite irrefutable evidence of need (my x-rays alone are a medical horror story), it took me nearly ten years of despondent suffering to find a physician ethical enough to disregard the onerous federal restrictions and just write me the damned prescription. My dosage and usage have not wavered in twenty-plus years I’ve used it. This cheap, effective drug has given me my life back. During that time, I’ve raised my children to responsible adulthood, built several successful businesses, patented a scientific process, and written an award-winning best seller.

    I defy anyone to tell me my quality of life has been diminished, or my contribution to society nullified because of my drug “habit”. Please don’t blame opioids for the socially irresponsible idiots who ABUSE them; it’s not as if anyone in the United States hasn’t had it drummed into their head since kindergarten that the misuse of opiate drugs can (and likely WILL) harm or kill you. They can also save your life.

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